The Government has announced the above measures (as well as local business grants totalling £1 billion) aimed at relieving the pressure on both the NHS and support businesses that are experiencing difficulties because of the Omicron variant, and the dual impact of staff absences and lower consumer demand.
A temporary adjustment to sickness absence reporting will no doubt be welcomed by weary GPs as the COVID numbers rise and the booster campaign continues. But what of employers?
Employees absent due to ill health between the 17 December 2021 and 26 January 2022, (including where the absence commenced prior to 17 December 2021 but has not lasted more than 7 days on that date and those employees who fall ill during the following weeks up to and including 26 January 2022) are now able to self-certify sickness for up to 28 calendar days (previously 7 days). The obligation to attend a GP to obtain a ‘fit note’ is now only triggered where an employee has been sick for more than 28 days and have taken sick leave. The 28 days includes non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays.
Who is eligible?
This change applies to employees:
- who have had a spell of incapacity for work who on the 17 December 2021 were ill, but had not been for more than 7 days:
- whose illness commences on any day during the inclusive period which:
- begins on 17 December 2021; and
- ends at the 26 January 2022.
Employers during this period, (26 January inclusive) will only be able to request ‘fit notes’ for SSP purposes for periods of over 28 days.
Over the holiday period and into the New Year, this temporary extension will reduce the pressure on GPs. Employers will no doubt wish to rely on absence management procedures, including timely and regular contact, to manage the attendance and absence of staff whilst the temporary adjustment applies.
Reintroduction of the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate scheme (SSPRS)
Small and medium-sized businesses will be familiar with the scheme that closed in September 2021, the reintroduction will again support employers faced with heightened levels of sickness absence. The SSPRS will refund small and medium-sized employers’ COVID-related SSP costs for up to two weeks per employee. This will provide support where employees are absent due to COVID-related illness, and include employees who on account of their vaccination status must self-isolate as a close contact, and are unable to work from home.
Who can claim?
- UK employers with fewer than 250 employees as of 30 November 2021, who operate PAYE, and have already paid their employees’ COVID-related SSP.
How much SSP can be claimed, and for how long?
- Employers will be able to claim the costs for up to two weeks of SSP per employee that has to take time off because of COVID-19.
This two-week limit will be reset so an employer will be able to claim up to two weeks per employee regardless of whether they have claimed under the previous scheme for that employee.
The scheme will be reintroduced so that employers can claim for COVID-related sickness absences occurring from 21 December 2021 onwards. Claims will be processed through HMRC from mid-January, and employers must keep appropriate records of claims made through the scheme for three years. This is a temporary scheme, and the duration will be kept under review. We understand further guidance will be published shortly.
Employers are again facing uncertainty through this critical trading period, however the (SSPRS), alongside the £1 billion of grants for businesses impacted by Omicron across the UK will be a lifeline for many struggling employers.
Updated guidance and access to the support measures are available from:
- Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): Eligibility – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk);
- Claim back Statutory Sick Pay paid to your employees due to coronavirus (COVID-19) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) and
- Grant support – OFF-SEN Econ Support Term Sheet template FINAL.docx (publishing.service.gov.uk).
Our Employment team are available to field your questions on 0191 250 8500.